Flexible electronics research could lead to a fully responsive skin for robots.

Smart skin project aims for more responsive robots

Nine European organisations are collaborating to develop flexible electronics products.

The possibility of realising flexible and bendable electronic circuits that can be rolled up, twisted or inserted in films around objects is seen as one of the most significant challenges in the field of future electronics, with a host of potential applications from robotics to rollable solar cells.

An essential part of the ‘Contest’ project (COllaborative Network for Training in Electronic Skin Technology) will be to provide multidisciplinary research training to young researchers in relevant fields.

With €3.81m of funding from the European Commission, the Contest project will start in October 2012 and run for four years. It will investigate critical technological aspects of flexible electronics, aimed at obtaining an electronically enhanced and wearable smart skin that can gather ‘contact information’ across large areas and be used to study human-environment interactions and extend the cognitive capabilities of robots.

The Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK) of Trento, Italy, will coordinate the project, which has six other full partners (ST Microelectronics, Italy; Technical University Munich, Germany; Fraunhofer EMFT, Germany; University College London, UK; Imperial College London, UK; and Shadow Robotics Company, UK) and two associate partners (University of Cambridge, UK, and University of Tokyo, Japan).

Twelve early-stage researchers and two experienced researchers are being recruited in areas such as flexible systems integration, fabrication technologies, new materials, robotics and human-environment interaction. As well as their research training, they will be able to move within the network to experience academic and industrial environments.

Ravinder Dahiya, a researcher at the Bio-MEMS Unit of FBK’s Centre for Materials and Microsystems, is enthusiastic about the potential of flexible electronics.

“There would be a dazzling array of items that technologists have long dreamed of, if integrated circuits were realised on flexible substrates and if the electronic components were spread over large areas,” he said. “Imagine lightweight electronic skin or sheets of sensors and circuits, large and pliable, covering the bodies of robots, allowing them to interact safely with elderly people and real-world objects.”

Further information:

Find out more about the Contest project.

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